Burning Man Solo: My Gateway Drug to Living Fully

Disclaimer: The pictures in this post are my original photos from Burning Man 2012. They are not great, but they are the real deal. 

In 2012 I decided to embark on the ultimate solo trip: a week at Burning Man. Now when I say I was going to Burning Man solo I mean SOLO. I did not know a soul who was going to Black Rock City that year, and had only ever met one single person who had actually been to the famous counter-culture event in Nevada.

Did I let that stop me? Hell no! I wanted to go to Burning Man! Black Rock City had been calling my name for years, and I finally had the chance to get there.

I did ask a few close friends if they would be interested, and they all said no instantly. Black Rock City’s harsh desert heat, dust storms, and reputation for naked, drug-munching hippies was enough to scare off basically everyone I knew back then.

So I was going to Burning Man solo

That meant I was going to Burning Man alone. At the time, Burning Man’s internet forum, eplaya, was the main source of first-hand information if you had no personal sources to turn to, so I read it. All of it. I’m quite sure I read every single page of the eplaya forums over the course of several months. (Nowadays I recommend the Burning Man reddit page for solid information).

I made lists. I began purchasing playa gear such as goggles and dust masks. I planned out shelf stable food so I didn’t have to rely on a cooler system (they can be VERY tricky out there!)

Before I knew it I was ready!  Black Rock City here I come! (Also, I was BROKE, so I had to figure out how to make all this happen on a shoestring budget).

Disaster struck jusssst before I was scheduled to leave!

Then, with the burn just one week away, I totaled my car, which was going to be my transportation to the desert.

I spent a few hours yo-yoing between absolute despair that I would not be able to make the trip, and fierce determination that I was going to Burning Man, hell or high water! Somewhere in this emotional crisis it occurred to me: in all my reading I had come across a ride share board for Burning Man. I scrambled to my computer, googled, and started sending out messages to a variety of burners who were offering a seat for the 15 hour drive from Los Angeles to Black Rock City.

And boom! Just like that I had a ride with a 6th-year burner in his Toyota Sunrader RV (my first experience with Toyota motorhomes!). We talked Burning Man and dog training most of the way, as he happened to be the proud owner of a genius border collie, and at the time I owned a dog training business.

 Dust dunes forming on the windshield as we drove into Black Rock City Dust dunes forming on the windshield as we drove into Black Rock City

And then…I panicked…

When we made our way through the gate at Burning Man I started to panic. We were in the middle of a dust storm so intense that we had to run the windshield wipers to push dust dunes off the glass. We creeped along at walking speed because we could not see past the nose of the RV. I had my goggles and dust mask on, and I was fully aware that I was about to be dropped off with all my stuff in the middle of this.

“What the f*@% have I gotten myself into?” was pretty much all I could think as I unloaded my bags and camping gear from the RV. My ride drove off with a promise to meet me at sunrise in 8 days to give me a ride back to Los Angeles.

I surveyed my small pile of gear, barely visible in the swirling dust, and promptly began sobbing. I sat on my cooler bawling for a good 5 minutes before I decided that I had two options:

  1. Sit here sobbing until I die of dehydration

  2. Start pounding rebar

What choice did I have? I pulled out the sledgehammer I had purchased just for this purpose, and started pounding in rebar stakes (rebar stakes are the long metal pieces that you see in concrete structures at construction sites; they are required at Burning Man due to the extremely high winds that blow across the desert).

 Sunrise at Burning Man ( photo by Andrew Torr)  Sunrise at Burning Man ( photo by Andrew Torr)

The man emerged

Some amount of time later (maybe 15 minutes? maybe an hour? couldn’t tell you) the dust cleared and I looked up from my work to see the man glowing in the distant darkness. It’s hard to describe that moment properly, all I can say is that in that moment something fundamental shifted inside of me, something that could never un-shift. The wild decisions and huge life changes I’ve made in the past 7 years all truly began in that moment.

Once I had my little solo camp set up I hopped on my bike and rode off to explore the playa (read about decorating your bike for Burning Man).

Burning Man proceeds to blow my mind

WOAH! Burning Man was everything I had imagined, and a total surprise all at once. It was beautiful and harsh, exciting and vast, stimulating and overwhelming. It felt like I had been dropped off on a different planet.

Black Rock City runs on a gift economy. This means that no money is exchanged at Burning Man. Instead, participants offer gifts to the community. Gifts can come in SO many forms, which I quickly learned in my first days on the playa. A gift could be a compliment, a grilled cheese sandwich, or a 30 foot tall climbable structure with a crow’s nest at the top.

 At Burning man pants are optional! At Burning man pants are optional!

I was prepared for the Burning Man gift economy, I’d done my reading! I walked from neighbor to neighbor offering beer or energy drinks out of a small backpack cooler. This was an excellent ice breaker, and I made lots of friends fast. If you’re considering a solo Burning Man adventure try to come up with a few icebreakers like this!

I spent the week exploring, playing, climbing, and meeting a myriad of interesting individuals. In fact, late in the week I met Tom, which was the beginning of another long story.

It’s so hard to describe Burning Man. It’s part art festival, part dance party, part tribal gathering, part prankster playground, the list could go on forever. Essentially, it is a blank canvas, and you can make anything out of it you want to.

Burning Man is absolutely a case of “you get back what you put in”, and that can lead to disappointment if you aren’t prepared. Burning Man is not a standard festival where you show up and get entertained. The best Burning Man experiences stem from participation- you don’t just experience the entertainment, you entertain, you don’t just receive gifts, you gift. The more actively you participate, the more Black Rock City will come alive for you.

Although I showed up solo that first year, I spent the week hanging out with 50,000 of my closest friends. That’s what happens at Burning Man, and the reason I’ve returned seven times to Black Rock City, Nevada.

If you are considering a solo trip to Burning Man- do it!  Going to Burning Man alone opened so many doors for me, and ultimately changed the course of my life. One of the greatest lessons I learned at Burning Man was how to embrace impermanence, read more about that here.

Not sure if Burning Man is right for you? In this post I help you figure out if you should go to Burning Man.

If you need some help planning, or if you’re wondering how to pack for Burning Man check out our Guide to Burning Man Prep and our roundup of Festival Gear we Can’t Live Without!

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14 thoughts on “Burning Man Solo: My Gateway Drug to Living Fully”

  1. Loved reading this post, gave me such Burning Man feels! So cute you and Tom met on the playa!

  2. Yay! Glad to hear it gave you the Burning Man feels 🙂 🙂 I got them writing it!

  3. Hi Mary! Excellent question. There are lots of ways to do it, some people go very minimal and pack everything in checked luggage. Others rent space in a truck or storage container that is driving out to Burning Man from the East coast. I would recommend joining your local Burning Man Facebook group as the local burners will be an excellent resource for you (if you just search "[your area] burners" in Facebook you should find the closest group).

    Additionally, here are some reddit search results regarding this question, lots of good info in those threads: https://www.reddit.com/r/BurningMan/search?q=flying+from+east+coast&restrict_sr=on

    Hope to see you in the dust next year!! 🙂

  4. I LOVE that you took the jump and wrote about it. I am going solo myself for the first time. Were you at any point….scared? Like obviously anyone is going to be nervous about the drug part. Not participating but more the people on them.

  5. Ever since I heard of Burning Man years ago I’ve been planning to go. I’m in the same situation as you were in that all my close friends aren’t even remotely interested in going. I’m from Sydney Australia so that makes is even harder but I’m determined to go! That’s for sharing your solo experience!

  6. Robin Satterwhite

    This so incredibly strikes home that I just started crying while sitting in my mechanic shop. All the rough-neck woods people here in Felton, CA are gonna eat me alive! 😋
    Great timing to check it out when we’re at the beginning of prep-season, I’m a little bummed about a stupid April Fool’s Day prank about the burn spreading around the internet, and I happen to be a little stuck on my own blog series about last year’s burn. Overwhelmed by so much work getting ready for teaching abroad and pnenomia last week. 😷

  7. Ami! I’m wondering how your solo experience went? In answer to your question, I was never scared, but I certainly practiced basic precautions as a single woman- watching my drinks closely, using a cup with a lid, being aware of my surroundings, etc. I’ve never had any scary or threatening interactions at all out there.

    As far as drugs- the drug use is WAY overblown by the media, so definitely don’t stress about that.

    Now alcohol, on the other hand, can cause dangerous dehydration out there, and on a few occasions I’ve offered water and shade to burners who’d had a few too many drinks.

    Overall, though, Burning Man participants are kind, responsible, and friendly, which is part of what makes it such a special place.

  8. Awesome, good for you! Plus going solo is SO much fun, you can do whatever you want whenever you want, you have total freedom.

  9. Hi Brittany. Just discovered your blog while searching for info on Toyota campers. You remind me a lot of myself back in the 90s when I was 20 something and used to travel from coast to coast in my old Ford LTD camping out in free spots in the USFS and just seeing the country. If I may ask, how do you finance this lifestyle? It sounds great but to live in an RV for two years straight just traveling and then going abroad? I don’t get it. Maybe I am being to upfront with you and shouldn’t be asking this. Lots of people don’t like to talk money so if you are one of them then just disregard this comment. Thanks and I look forward to hearinig back from you.


  10. Hi Mark! No problem at all, it’s a very reasonable question. When we first started traveling we sold most of our possessions including a reasonably valuable car, and saved up for about a year.

    In the beginning we mostly lived off of savings, and my partner is a retired firefighter so he gets a pension. As soon as we began traveling I started this travel blog, and after about a year I began making money off of it. We also have taken a few side jobs along the way (for example, we taught outdoor science classes at an outdoor school in Oregon for a couple months).

    Nowadays we finance our travels with the income from the blog and from my partner’s pension, and no longer dip into our savings.

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